I was so taken by Yoshitaro Nomura’s ZERO FOCUS (see previous blog) I had to watch his reputedly best film; THE CASTLE OF SAND. Lucky me.
THE CASTLE OF SAND contains a satisfying quota of “noir” elements.
- It pairs an older/wise investigator with a younger/energetic partner. They work separately and come back together to compare their discoveries. Those discoveries are meagre, but spark progress in each other through this cross-pollination. Yes, there are some “Eureka!” moments, but not the usual Hollywood kind. Mind you, I’m not knockin’ Hollywood “Eureka!” moments. They’re usually pretty exciting storytelling. But it’s intriguing to see these two hard-working, sweating, high-integrity guys tease just enough new information to keep their investigation from fading away.
- It has bar scenes, dining car scenes, and police headquarters interview scenes. Check, check, and check.
- It has trains. I know that sounds strange but this is always good for me. I’m a passenger with no control. I am caught in a powerful, loud machine hurling me towards the next chapter in the adventure at hand. Gulp.
It does not have Ginzu knives.
But wait! There’s more!!
Unlike ZERO FOCUS, this film is in color. Mr. Nomura uses that color to exploit the beauty of rural Japan. Imagine if the Ingmar Bergman of SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT had shot a film in rural Kentucky in early summer. The vistas are impossibly green – the people are small against it. The roads/trails are generally straight and so are the people. Integrity is high – tolerance is low. Hospitality is ubiquitous – charity is rare.
The acting in this film is perhaps not as uniformly fine as in ZERO FOCUS, but the older detective portrayal by Tetsuro Tanba (fellow James Bond aficionados will remember Mr. Tanba as Tiger Tanaka in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) is very nice.
The treasure in this film is the remarkable way the resolution is revealed. Our detectives apply for a warrant to arrest their suspect. To do so, they must present their case to an assembly of police officials. As they tell their story we see their story in painful and lush flashback. As they speak and we watch, everything is underscored by a piano concerto written and played by our prime suspect. The camera smoothly and logically and relentlessly moves from police conference to rural saga to concert performance. I could not look away. The plot twists as the story is unveiled are effective and startling………and plausible.
This is a gem.